Irish Medical Organisation

Public Health Specialist criticises delays in development of National Alcohol Policy

The failure of successive Governments to develop a National Alcohol Policy has had a “devastating” impact on Irish society in general and family life in particular according to Public Health Specialist, Dr. Declan  Bedford.

Giving the annual Irish Medical Organisation Doolin Lecture in the Royal College of Surgeons, Dr Bedford said that Ireland has become a nation of binge-drinkers with a dangerous ambivalence towards alcohol and the damage it inflicts on lives across the community;   “It’s an indication of Ireland’s ambivalent attitude to alcohol that there are more places where you can buy drink in Ireland than where you can buy fruit, vegetables or milk.”

Dr. Bedford said that the statistics around alcohol in Ireland were staggering:

  • Every man, woman and child over the age of 15 in Ireland drinks the equivalent of a bottle of vodka a week.
  • Every seven hours someone dies from an alcohol-related illness.
  • Irish people are now the biggest binge drinkers in Europe and only 3 in every 10 people seem to be capable of having two drinks or less in a single session.  Research has shown that one in four adults binge drink every week,” he said. (Binge drinking is defined as more than five drinks in a single session.)

Ireland’s alcohol problem is not just confined to adults, Dr Bedford said.  “Half of our 15-16 year-old’s have drunk alcohol and a quarter have been drunk at some stage in the past month, and in the case of Irish girls they drank 44% more alcohol in their last “session” than their European peers.

He added that while alcohol retailers and bar and disco proprietors claim that they go to great pains to prevent teenagers getting hold of alcohol, those claims are not supported by the figures.  “One in four mid-teenagers bought alcohol in off-sales outlets one in three consumed alcohol in a bar or disco in the past 30 days.

“This does not suggest that those selling alcohol either in off sales outlets or in bars and discos are taking adequate measures to ensure teenagers are not able to get their hands on alcohol.  More rigid enforcement is surely needed if we are to have any chance of preventing the next generation of binge drinkers,” Dr Bedford said.

“The impact on family life in terms of the effect on relationships, disruption to home and work life might not be easily calculated, but we do know that alcohol is a factor in half of the suicides in Ireland while a quarter of deaths of young men are the result of alcohol.”

Alcohol abuse also imposes enormous burdens on the health service. “Anybody working in Emergency Medicine can testify to the number of alcohol related cases, many of them violent, who turn up on weekend nights and I estimate that one in every eight people attending at an EM unit is there because they have drunk too much. Somewhere in the region of 2,000 acute hospital beds every day are occupied by people who are there as a result of alcohol-related illness or injuries and admissions wholly attributable to alcohol have more than doubled since 1995,” he said.

“In pure financial terms we mightn’t have the most up to date figures but back in 2007, the National Substance Misuse Strategy put the cost of alcohol-related harm at some €3.7 billion.  I think it’s a pretty fair bet that five years on from the report, the cost of alcohol-related harm has risen significantly,” Dr Bedford said.


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